Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.
Big Bend Loop
- Location: Big Bend Staging Area, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Highway 133 between Irvine and Laguna Beach. From Interstate 405, head south on highway 133. Look for the parking lot on the right side of the road just past the intersection with El Toro road, 2 miles past the 73 freeway overpass and a little more than a mile south of the more popular Willow Canyon parking lot. From Laguna Beach, the trailhead is on the left side of the road, 2 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway (just before El Toro). Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
- Agency: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
- Distance: 4.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, trail condition, terrain)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: November- May
- USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: here
- Rating: 7
If you like getting the bad news before the good news, the Big Bend Loop is your kind of hike.
From the Big Bend staging area (marked on the map as post 20), take the fire road leading south from the parking lot. In 0.2 miles, you’ll arrive at post 22, where the obscure Laguna Ridge Trail (your return route) branches off to the left. The route can be done in either direction – the ascent and descent are both very steep – but doing it counter-clockwise, as described here, provides great ocean views.
Shortly after the junction, the Big Bend Trail makes the first of two brutal climbs. After the grade mellows out, you come to a meadow where you get great views of the Santa Anas and on clear days can see Mt. Baldy. After a second steep ascent, you descend briefly and make a final, moderately-graded climb to reach the Bommer Ridge Road at post 12.
Head left and enjoy the fruits of your labors: great ocean views ahead of you and steep canyons on either side. After a mile or so of mild ups and downs, notice Boat Road branching off on the right (click here for a report on that hike), and almost immediately after, arrive at post 16 and head left on the obscure Laguna Ridge Trail. It climbs briefly to a ragged flag on a pole, where you can get a great 360 degree view before the next challenging phase of the hike begins.
The trail descends steeply on a rocky surface that at times has loose dirt. Needless to say, caution is in order. After descending a few hundred feet, arrive at a meadow where the trail splits. Head left (right leads to another point on Laguna Canyon Road – I took this spur by mistake; not recommended!) The trail continues to follow the ridge, steep in places, before bottoming out near the road at post 23, where it heads left. The last mile is a little hard to follow in spots, as it is overgrown, but keep in mind that basically it follows the road, without climbing too high on the ridge, although there are a few small ascents. Finally it reaches Big Bend, where you take a right and head back down to the parking lot.
Note that the park’s web site lists the Big Bend Staging Area as for equestrian use only, but there were no signs to that effect when I visited the park, and I left my car there without any issues. Call the park at 949-923-2235 for more information.